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How to Succeed at a Summer Job: Look White and Christian

While young prospective workers in general are saddled with record levels of unemployment, young workers of color face an even bleaker economic outlook.

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Abercrombie has a particularly long and troubled history with discrimination claims. The company has faced at least five high-profile lawsuits for discrimination in the past decade, including a 2004 class action suit in which the store was ordered to pay a settlement worth more than $40 million to black, Latino, Asian American and female workers who successfully argued that white men were being favored for advancement positions. Just last month, a federal judge in Oklahoma  ruled in favor of the EEOC in its accusing the company of bias for not hiring a Muslim teenager who wore a hijab.

But while Abercrombie has certainly been one of the most visible retailers to have trouble with its workers of color, it’s not the only one. Just this week American Apparel settled a lawsuit with Christopher Renfro, a black former employee, for more than $300,000. Renfro said that a coworker repeatedly called him “nigger.” The company had previously dismissed his claims and instead insisted that it was as case of a coworker singing along with rap lyrics. An arbiter in Oakland  didn’t buy it.

In Khan’s case, the  complaint she filed in court on June 27 states that the defendants acted with “malice or reckless indifference to the protected rights” of Khan, and that in addition to a loss in earnings, she’s suffered “humiliation, mental anguish, and emotional distress.”

Araceli Martinez-Olguin, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society-Employment Center, which filed Khan’s complaint, told that the incident “shook [Khan’s] belief and understanding of the society that we live in.” Martinez-Olguin noted that even after 9/11, her client had never faced such overt discrimination in her community or school.

These sorts of cases take on added significance given today’s economy. The overall unemployment rate hovers just above 9 percent, but jobless numbers for prospective black and Latino workers is much worse, at 16 percent and nearly 12 percent, respectively.

But numbers for jobless youth are even higher. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that for young people between the ages of 16 and 19, the unemployment rate is just over 24 percent, which is only slightly better than a year ago. The unemployment rate for black youth in the same age bracket is nearly double that, at 40.7 percent. When the overall youth unemployment rate for last July edged up over 19 percent, it was the highest since the country began keeping records in 1948. 

Melian Carter-Gilkey is program manager at Enterprise for High School Students, a San Francisco organization that offers career counseling support to students looking for summer jobs, and she’s seen first hand the difficulties young people face in today’s job market. “High school students are now competing with adults with college educations for entry level or retail jobs,” she said. “Very often students miss out on opportunities because they don’t have the flexibility in their schedules because of school.”

To help offset some of these challenges, Carter-Gilkey says that she’s been encouraging students to be creative in their job searches, and also consider unpaid volunteer and internship positions.

But young workers lament that volunteering simply doesn’t pay the bills.

Additional research for this story was compiled by Bryan Gerhart.


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